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Special Agent Anthony Hutchins faced his Washington D.C. office window. Anyone who knew him, which he prided himself on believing few truly did, would know he was distracted today. He stared at the worn photo he held in his hand, grazing it with his thumb lovingly. It had been a few days since he had taken it out to remember the life he had given up over a decade ago. It still pained him. He ran a finger over the face of the woman in the photo and felt his eyes get tight with unshed tears. The baby she held in her arms was as beautiful as the woman. Perfect. A perfect life he should have known was too good to last.
Anthony pressed the button on his intercom to reply. "Yes, Denise."
"I have the articles you requested. Should I bring them in?"
Anthony opened his desk drawer and returned the picture to its hiding spot. He doubted anyone took the time to go through his desk here at the office, but he trusted no one. Having the picture at all posed a risk at exposing things better left secret.
"Yes, please. The door is unlocked."
He was notorious for being a recluse both at and away from work. When he was in between assignments he remained in his office with the door closed and locked. He ventured out only to go to lunch if he neglected to bring something from home with him in the morning. Occasionally he would be forced into being social with other agents but most learned long ago to leave him alone.
Denise entered and smiled at him. Anthony recognized years ago that Denise's smiles extended beyond professional salutations. He had not given her any hint that he might be interested in her and kept her around because she did not gossip with the other administrative assistants on the floor. She was a pretty woman, younger than he was by at least a dozen years. She was always dressed nicely and today was no exception.
The black dress she wore was simple but had she been going to a dinner party after work would have been appropriate there as well. She had blonde hair that she wore just above her shoulders and was always well kempt. She alternated between glasses and contact lenses. Anthony never knew what made her wear the glasses some days.
He had been tempted a time or two to ask her out for a drink. He was human after a while and contrary to popular belief very much alive. But he could not do it. He would close his eyes and see another woman's face. She was the only woman he would ever love so there was no point in going through the motions with anyone else.
"Thank you, Denise. How are you this morning?" He shifted his coffee cup to the side of his desk blotter to make room for the file folder she held in her hands.
"I'm fine, Agent Hutchins."
"Oh, he's fine, Agent Hutchins, thanks for asking," she said handing him the folder.
"I'm glad he's doing all right." Anthony was touched by the affection Denise showed her retired greyhound dog. She had been worried about him for the past couple of weeks because he had stopped eating as much as he normally did. Anthony had never had pets, but he knew what it was like to worry about someone you loved and tried to care for. Anthony lived with that concern every day.
"Will there be anything else?"
He glanced at the folder on his desk and ran his fingertips over the front of it. He was not sure he really wanted to look at its contents. "No, thank you, Denise. Hold my calls until I tell you otherwise."
He smiled slightly at her formality. She was the only one who knew he did not care whether he was addressed as Agent, Sir or just Anthony. She had called him Anthony once but despite the fact he had not corrected her she never had dropped the formality of Agent or Sir again.
Anthony was not sure how he had gotten such a loyal assistant. Someone must have wanted him happy in this prison of a life forced upon him. That or she was not at all what she seemed to be. Anthony was not stupid and did not think anyone was that good an actress so he chose to believe she was just good at her job and knew nothing about him.
He took a sip of his coffee wishing it was something stiffer than that and finally mustered the courage to open the file folder. The contents could change his life. He was not sure if that was good or bad yet but he had to know if the people he loved were in trouble. He had kept his curiosities at bay for so long that he had no idea what was in store for him in the folder.
Anthony sat on the airplane, sipping his vodka. He had stayed away from pool halls and liquor over the years but returning brought with it a whole bunch of emotions he was not sure he wanted to deal with.
The disappearances of so many of good people sickened him. He wondered if he had been there if it would have happened. The idea of someone abducting his wife's parents was abhorrent to him. He had managed to stay out of town and finding out about family business because he knew it was for the best. So long as he stayed out of their lives he had been assured his family would be safe, protected. He had assumed that would extend to her family, but evidently he had been wrong.
Had he left, faking his death and breaking his vows so that those he loved would remain anonymous for nothing? He had never physically broken his vows. There would never be anyone for him but Kayla. As far as he was concerned she was still his wife and always would be. Instinctively, he found himself reaching for his left ring finger devoid of a wedding band for far too many years now.
He had no idea what had made him want to look now. For fourteen years he had cut his past life out as if it had been an extra limb he was able to leave behind. His superior had asked no questions when Anthony informed he was taking some personal time. Anthony Hutchins had not taken a sick day or a vacation in all of his time with the Bureau.
When he was on undercover assignments, which until the past few months had been what he did, there were times he did not work every day but as far as officially Anthony had banked weeks of vacation time to this point. His boss was glad to see him go. Undercover agents get rotated usually every two to three years with the maximum typically being five. Anthony had refused to be rotated out, instead insisting on working his way deeper into the O'Boyle clan. It was the only way they were ever going to get anywhere if they truly wanted to get to the top of the family. If he had been rotated out it would have meant his leaving his family behind had been for nothing.
His supervisor claimed Anthony was a natural. He attributed it to his days before his marriage. The days when pool halls and bar brawls were the norm for him. He had hoped they would remain in his past, enjoying the kinder, gentler man he had become under the ministrations of a beautiful blonde. She was a natural care giver, becoming a nurse was the natural course of action for her to take.
He stroked the patch over his eye as the announcement came that they were beginning their descent. There were so many memories swirling around in his head he was not sure how to handle them. He had spent years pushing the memories to the back of his mind that it was like a tidal wave at the moment. He wondered if she still lived there. Was she remarried? Did his daughter have another father? Tears pricked at his one good eye and he quickly wiped them away with the back of his hand as he raised his tray table to its upright and locked position. A flight attendant came by to collect trash and he deposited his now empty cup into the bag.
The vodka had not helped calm his nerves or take the edge off at all. He was here to see if the police department had any leads, but he could not help but get excited at the possibility of seeing her again. It had been so long. They shared good times and bad times together but they had persevered and made it through. She had given him the happiest moments of his entire life in a matter of five years. She had married him and given him a child, a daughter. Anthony had never been too keen on the idea of a son. Boys were far too much trouble and he was not sure he would have made the same decision he had fourteen years ago if he had a son instead of a daughter. Leaving her alone to raise a boy by herself would have been asking a lot, not that she did not have brothers to help her.
"Thank you for flying Southwest," the flight attendant said as he departed the plane.
"You're welcome," he responded automatically as if she was really thanking him.
The rental car clerk was no better. "Welcome to Salem, enjoy your stay."
"Thanks," he replied and gathered his bags before stepping outside to find his car.
Anthony closed the phone book with a sigh. An air of dread surrounded him when he could not find her name listed. Had she remarried? Was she dead? Who was taking care of his daughter? He adjusted the towel around his waist and ran his fingers over the tattoo on his chest. Whenever he thought of her or his past he found the need to touch it, a reminder of how far he had come.
He looked in the mirror wondering if she would recognize him. His job had required him to stay physically fit and he thought he looked good for his age. There were a few wrinkles on his face where there had been none when he left, but that was to be expected with age. Some of his jobs took him to the Caribbean, Mexico and South America where the sun was not a man's friend.
He got dressed, his wristwatch and patch the last items he put on. There were times he wished he had let the government pay for reconstructive surgery for his eye. They had offered but he had refused. He believed it went with the image he was trying to present in attempting to infiltrate the O'Boyle family. A man who had the scars to prove he had experienced in life was convincing if he wanted to get close enough to the heads of the family. With the patch and his hair just a tad too long, Anthony looked like a righteous bad ass.
The suit he had flown in was hung carefully in his room's closet. This was vacation and jeans, T-shirts and his leather coat were all that Anthony planned on wearing during his stay. For all he knew he would only be here for a couple of days but he had prepared for the possibility of staying longer.
"Forever," he whispered. His voice carried wistfulness with that word, unsure he would get the chance even if he wanted it. He had opened this can of worms and was on the verge of not being able to go back territory. Once he set foot in the Salem Police Department building all hell could break loose and his wife's brother might very well try to kill him for real this time. He had not hesitated to take his eye so many years ago. Anthony doubted his brother-in-law would hesitate to take him out for deceiving his wife and daughter for so long.
Patting his coat pocket to ensure he had both car keys and his room's swipe card, Anthony drew the door closed and walked down the hallway to the exit where his car waited. He was not in the mood to get down to business so he decided to take a bit of a drive instead.
He drove past the house she grew up in, the building where his first apartment had been, and finally the building the loft was located in. He got out of the car, closing the door and glanced up to the roof of the building. More tears threatened to fall as memories of his time in Salem came rushing back.
"Sweetness," he whispered. It was the pet name he used for her and it had gone unsaid from his lips for too long. He entered the building, pushing the up button on the elevator. He knew she would not still be living here, the loft would be too small for both her and a teenaged girl, but he wanted to see it. He had to see if it looked the same and who lived there now.
"Excuse me," he said as a brunette pushed past him as he stepped off the elevator. She did not respond, merely huffed in apparent frustration that the elevator was not taking her downstairs in a quick fashion. He chuckled lightly. Was he always in such a hurry when he was her age? He could not remember, but guessed he probably was.
He reached the loft and was now not so sure this trip down Memory Lane was a wise one. He placed his hand against the door as if touching it would bring him back to those days when he was in love and things were so much simpler. He never believed a love so true and good existed until she came into his life. The women in his life before her all had their own agendas. She had an agenda he supposed, to get him to drop his walls and let her in. She had gotten her wish and in the end he had hurt her terribly.
He liked to think successfully bringing down a mob family was worth it, but now that he was here again he was no longer sure why he had done it. "To protect my family," he whispered. They were threatening to expand to the Midwest, to Salem. He could not sit back and watch that happen. His daughter's life was better, safer because of his efforts. At least he thought so.
The door slid open unexpectedly and Anthony retracted his hand quickly, startled. It was not like him to let his guard down so completely. He stared at the blonde standing in the doorway. Stuck in the past for a moment he was not sure why a stranger was answering the door. "Stephanie?" he asked.
"Can I help you?" the young blonde said.
"I, uh, I guess I have the wrong apartment."
"Well, I know everyone who lives here and there's no one named Stephanie."
"I was looking for someone who used to live here. Sorry to have bothered you." He shoved his hands into the pockets of his leather coat and grabbed onto the rental car keys. He clutched them in his fist to clear his mind.
"I know you, don't I?"
"No, I just made a mistake."
"I know I do," she said as Anthony turned to walk away. "Wait, don't go."
"Listen, it's the wrong apartment. Okay?" He turned to regard the girl. She was biting her lower lip as if she was thinking real hard on something. She was cute in a innocent-girl-next-door kind of way. "Just forget I was ever here."
"You're Shawn's uncle."
"What?" he asked unsure he had heard her right? He remembered when Shawn Douglas was born and presumed that was who she was talking about.
"Shawn Douglas. You're his uncle right?"
"You've got the wrong guy."
"No, I don't. The patch on your eye. It kind of gives you away."
"Lots of guys have patches on their eyes, Sweetheart."
"Yeah, but not all of them come to this loft looking for someone who used to live here. You're looking for," she paused as if thinking. "Oh, I can't remember her name. Shawn's aunt, the one who just moved back from California."
"Ah ha, I knew it," she said with a smile, clasping her hands together and bringing them to her chest.
"I didn't admit to anything."
"But you didn't deny it either. They're going to be so excited you're here." She frowned then. "What are you doing here? You're dead."
"I guess death isn't as permanent as everyone says it is."
"So you've been alive this whole time? I mean, I've only seen pictures of you."
"Who exactly are you?"
"I'm Belle Black."
"John's your father I take it?"
"And your mother is?"
"Marlena," she said as if he was silly for asking the question.
"Of course. I was sorry to hear about your mother."
"Yeah, that's why I'm here."
"So are you back in Salem for good? This is so exciting. I can't wait to tell Shawn I was the first one to see you."
"Listen, let's keep this between us for now, okay?"
"Oh but, you're here, I mean you do stand out a little with the patch and stuff. You've come to help find my mom, right?"
"I, well, yeah I'd like to if I can. She was always a nice lady."
"You knew her then?"
"Yeah, yeah I did."
"And my dad?"
"I thought he was found."
"Oh he is, I was just asking. I guess you get curious what your parents were like before they had you, you know?"
Anthony smiled slightly at that. "Yeah, I guess some people would." He was not one of those people. His father had been a bastard. His mother had been a good woman despite her troubles. "Can we keep this visit our little secret? I'm not sure how my sudden return is going to be received and I'd rather word didn't get to the wrong people."
"You mean your wife."
"Yeah and my little girl. Do you know her?" Belle shook her head and Anthony felt disappointment. "Well, I got to go."
"Wait. Steve," she said and it startled him. It had been so long since he had heard his real name that it actually gave him pause. As far as he knew only one person in the Bureau knew his real identity, though he imagined there were more pencil pushers that might have access to that information.
"That's not my name. I don't go by it anymore anyway."
"Oh, well, that's the only name I know. Have you eaten?"
"Have I what?"
"Eaten. It's lunchtime. I was making some soup and a sandwich. If you want to I can make another."
"I guess I thought you were on your way out."
"Well, you opened the door."
"Oh, I thought I heard someone out in the hallway, so I was wondering who was out there."
"Yeah, some girl just left, seemed in a hurry. Brunette."
Belle grimaced. "That would be Jan."
"I take it you two don't get along?"
He laughed lightly. "Thanks for the offer of lunch but I really shouldn't."
"Why not? I can fill you in on some things and well, at least you know I'm receptive to seeing you."
"Why not," he said with a shrug and walked toward the door. He stopped at the threshold, hesitant to go in.
"How long has it been since you've seen the loft?" She seemed to know what he was thinking and he wondered how someone so young could be so insightful.
"I don't know," he admitted. "I can't remember. I've spent so long not thinking about it I'm not sure what memories are real and what I've made up because I suppressed the others too well."
"Well, come in. It's nothing special, I wasn't planning on company."
He started to walk in but at the last minute realized he could not do it. He could not avoid seeing Bo and the others forever and he was not going to hide behind a twenty year old girl either. "I can't do it," he said giving her his most charming smile. "I'm sorry, Belle, thanks for the offer of lunch but I really have to get to the station." He turned and left, walking to the elevator, but of course the car was downstairs from the brunette having ridden downstairs in it.
"You're nice to offer, but if your father found out I spent time with you before telling him or anyone else I was back."
"Yeah, I suppose that'd be bad."
He smiled with a shrug. "Maybe you can catch me up some other time."
"I could take you to see my dad in the hospital."
"Yeah, he was hurt, his legs."
"Well, he's promised to be up and walking for my wedding."
"When's that?" he asked.
"About a month from now. Philip's being deployed."
"Philip's your fiancé?"
"Yes. Maybe you can come."
"I doubt I'd be welcome, but thanks for asking."
"Well, if you change your mind, the invitation is open."
"Thanks," he said as the elevator doors parted. "Maybe I'll see you around. It was nice to meet you Belle Black."
"You, too, Steve."
"It's Anthony. Steve's dead."
"If you say so," she said with what he thought was a rather coy smile as the elevator doors shut to take him downstairs.
"Next up the Salem PD," he murmured as he took his keys out of his coat pocket. He was not looking forward to his first meeting with his wife's brother but it had to be done. Anthony and Bo had a long and complicated past that began long before he had come to Salem. It was Bo and his thirst for revenge against the man who had taken his eye and flawed his face forever that had brought him to Salem to begin with.
((I realize that as it's taken me time to return to this fic it's outdated as far as the current storyline. I will be continuing with the story as I've set it up thus far. Philip & Belle are not married, John's still in the hospital, Marlena, Romand & the others are still gone, etc. Sorry for the delay and any inconvenience staying with the line I started with.))
It was not until he was almost to the police station that he realized Belle had said Kayla was no longer in California. She was here in Salem. Had she come back because of what happened to her family? He would not have blamed her.
Anthony had hoped to be assigned to the DiMera case eventually but it never happened. After the O'Boyle's had been brought down he had been assigned to the Zeblotsky family. He was a wanted man by more people than he could count, but it never mattered because he had given up the only thing he had to live for years ago. On and on it went but it was never the DiMera's.
His supervisor said that it was his face that prevented him from being assigned to the DiMera's. Stefano and Tony DiMera knew him. The Bureau had offered to do reconstructive surgery on him, fixing his eye in the process but Anthony had refused. He had had the eye fixed once before only to end up right back where he had been after Bo Brady had finished with him. He would not go through that again. It was bad enough to have to go back to wearing the patch a second time.
He parked the car in a space marked visitors. He felt like a complete stranger yet at the same time as if he had never left. How was that possible? It was hard to believe a man like Steve Johnson had ever grown fond enough of a place to call it home. But even today he considered Salem his home.
He clutched the rental car keys in the palm of his hand, letting his thumb graze the tag that served as a keychain. "You're an agent who has come up against worse things than the Brady's," he muttered. He was frustrated at his fear of the situation. For years he had felt no fear even when he went into situations that could end his life if he blinked wrong. He had grown numb and unafraid of death because he had nothing to lose. Men with that mindset were dangerous.
The police department looked no different than it had the last time he saw it. The computers were more modern, but overall it was the same building.
"May I help you?" The woman at the desk was a gray haired woman who probably was not as old as she looked. A life patrolling the streets could be hard on some and this woman was a prime example of that.
"Yes, I'm looking for Bo Brady." He wished now he had worn his suit. He carried his badge and his revolver everywhere. He had sworn he would not pull the Special Agent card while here in Salem. He was here as a friend of the Brady's nothing else.
She regarded him through hardened eyes but Anthony did not flinch or give away anything. He had long ago perfected his poker face. His years with the ISA had taught him that much but over a decade of deep undercover had helped him control it.
"I'm sorry he's not in. Would you care to wait? Or make an appointment?"
"Any idea where he is?" he asked and with this question he stooped to what he swore he would not do. He pulled out his badge and flashed it. Her eyes widened in surprise. Clearly, the man with the shaggy blonde hair, patch over one eye, dressed in blue jeans, a T-shirt, a leather jacket and heavy biker boots did not present the image one normally associated with a Bureau agent. Not one on official business anyway.
"He's at Salem University Hospital. Do you know where that is, Agent?"
"Yes, I do, thank you," Anthony said as he flipped his bifold wallet closed and returned it to the back pocket of his blue jeans. "Have a good day," he said before leaving the precinct.
Salem Hospital had grown since he had left town, but looked the same. Everything looked the same. He was not sure if that was good or bad. It would be so easy to fall back into a routine here. Easy only if his wife and daughter had room for him in their lives. There was nothing here for him without them.
He entered through a set of sliding glass doors and walked to the reception desk. He paused only for a moment before removing his wallet once more. "I'm looking for Bo Brady," he said as he flashed his badge yet again.
"I can page him for you."
"That won't be necessary. If you can tell me where he is I'll find him."
"Let me see," she said and seemed puzzled. She was probably wondering why he would wander through the hospital looking for someone when he could just have Bo brought to him.
"I believe he's on Floor 6. Ask for Lexie Carver and that should get you to him."
"Thank you," he said and once again pocketed his wallet. It was far too easy gaining information out of people with a mere flash of a gold badge. He shook his head as he walked to the elevators and got on the first one that opened for him.
"Doctor Lapcow, Code Blue, Room 345" a non-descript voice paged over the elevator speaker. A Code Blue was never a good sign and not something a doctor wanted to hear regarding one of his patients.
He slid his right hand into the front pocket of his blue jeans as he stepped off the elevator on Floor 6. He walked toward the nurse's station and offered the young redhead his best smile. It depended on the girl whether his smiles had any affect or not. Some were put off by the eye patch and some saw it as an extra attractant. "Hi. I hope you can help me. I'm looking for Bo Brady and was told I might be able to find him here."
"Sure," she said smiling in return and Anthony knew she was one that did not mind the patch. Good to know. "He's talking with Doctor Carver. I think they're in her office. Do you know where that is?"
"I'm afraid not. It's been a while since I've been here." That was an understatement. He was trying to remember which room Stephanie had been born in, but it was one of the few details he had forgotten. He held onto his memories so it bothered him that he could not remember even one of them.
"I can show you," she said with a smile as she picked up a file folder. "I was going that way anyway."
"Thank you, Mindy," he said reading the gold name tag displayed on her shiny white uniform. She stopped midway down the hall. "Her office is down there, the third door from the end on the left."
"Anytime," she said and went about her business in another direction.
Anthony walked toward Lexie's office. He remembered her as most men would. She was an attractive woman. He recalled thinking Abe was a lucky man. He nodded briefly at a passing volunteer as he arrived at the door in question, third from the end on the left.
He should have stayed back from the doorway given he was uncertain of how the office was set up in relation to the door. As it was, as soon as he walked into view of the door he came face to face with Lexie Carver. Her eyes widened in recognition and astonishment. There was no going back.
"Don't you see, Lexie, it would work for all of us."
"Bo," she said her eyes still focused on Anthony. He did not make any effort to walk toward her office door. He was stuck as if he had not meant to be discovered.
"No, Lexie, just listen."
"Bo," she said again. Evidently, Bo finally caught onto the fact that Lexie was deeply distracted by something outside her door because moments after the second "Bo" Anthony was face to face with the man who had maimed him years ago.
"What the hell?" Bo said as he charged at him. An arm was at his neck and Anthony was pinned to the wall behind him quicker than he expected. Anthony was vaguely aware of Lexie talking in the background but he was too focused on the man in front of him to hear her clearly enough.
"You've gotten faster," Anthony said.
"That's all you have to say for yourself."
Anthony maneuvered himself out from under Bo's hold with relative ease. He glared at his one-time friend and was about to give him a witty retort but he caught movement in Lexie's doorway with his good eye. It took him a minute to assess what he was seeing.
He had expected to meet up with Kayla at some point, but now that she stood less than ten feet away from him he had no idea what to say. She was looking at him in much the same way Lexie had been, disbelief at what she was seeing. She looked a little more pissed off than Lexie did, though, and he could not blame her.
"No, Steve," Bo said as Anthony walked toward his wife. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, even now he felt that way. She had aged some but it was flattering on her. "Kay."
"Is it really you?"
"It's really me, Sweetness." His voice was barely a gruff whisper. He was on the verge of tears at actually seeing her again. This was not one of his dreams. He would not wake up and feel the bed next to him was cold and empty.
Her hand flew up and struck his cheek with a powerful slap. "How dare you."
"Ow," he said instinctively. He placed his hand over his cheek, which was still stinging from the contact. "I deserved that."
"And a hell of a lot more," Bo said
"You stay out of this," Anthony said. He was going to have a hard time getting used to being able to be Steve again.
"You can't come back here and expect to pick up where you left off when you left her."
"Bo," Kayla said. "It's all right."
"No, it's not all right, Kay. He lied to you. You came back to get a fresh start not get dragged back to the past."
"Let me handle it."
Anthony could tell by the look in Bo's eyes that he was not happy that Kayla wanted to handle the situation. Anthony could not blame him. He would not like it either, but it was not Bo's choice to make. Kayla was nearly forty years old and capable of deciding for herself.
"Why don't you and Lexie finish talking out what you had in mind. I'm up for helping anyway I can, you know that. I just don't think anyone's going to do anything stupid in front of me given who my brothers are." Kayla did not take her eyes off him as she spoke.
"Kayla, really, I don't think it's a good idea for you to go anywhere with him. We don't even know it's really him."
"It's him," she whispered, her eyes never leaving his face. He read anger there, but underneath it was delight and confusion. She was happy to see him despite not wanting to be. "I know it's him."
"We've all been fooled into believing someone was the one we loved, Kay. Only to find out it wasn't."
"I see some things never change. She's a grown woman, why don't you try letting her make her own decisions."
"You stay out of this."
"If it weren't for me, there wouldn't be a this for me to stay out of, so I think I'll pass."
As he spoke she reached for his face with her hand. He thought for a moment she was going to slap him again and prepared for the blow. He could not blame her and would take whatever abuse he dished out until he could make her understand why he had done it. Instead, there was a fleeting caress of her fingertips against his patch, just where his patch ended. His good eye drifted closed, tears forming at her gentleness. He had waited years for this. It seemed like an eternity.
"You're so beautiful, Sweetness."
He shrugged with a glance toward Bo and Lexie. He took hold of her hand sliding it from his cheek to his mouth. He pressed his lips against it taking in the way she felt and smelled. "Is there some place we can talk?"
"I'm telling you, Kay, you shouldn't go anywhere with him. We have no idea where he's been all these years or who he's working for."
"Good to see your paranoia hasn't dampened with age."
"Shut up, Steve."
"I didn't come here to talk to you anyway." That was not really true. He had, wanting to get a visit to Bo out of the way. He knew Kayla's brother - both of them - were hyper-protective. This was just the type of scene he had been hoping to avoid by seeing Bo first. He would not have come to the hospital if he knew Kayla was here.
Steve could not blame Bo for being cautious. If he were the one in this position he would react much the same way. For all Bo knew Steve had defected and was working for the DiMera's. Steve had always walked a fine line between good and bad. Steve had met Kayla on one of his trips on the bad side. Bo knew that, but Bo had no way of knowing where Steve had been all these years.
"I promise you, Sweetness, I'll leave again if you want me to after you hear me out. I know I don't deserve even that."
"You're right, you don't."
"Could you for one minute butt out of business that isn't yours?"
"Come on, Bo, we still have details to smooth out if we're going to catch this thief," Lexie said. Bo hesitated.
"I'll be all right, Bo," Kayla said calmly. Steve was a little surprised at her reaction to all of this. Bo finally returned to Lexie's office with Lexie closing the door behind him.
His heart started hammering against the wall of his chest now that they were alone. "Will you give me a chance to explain?"
"Yes," she whispered, tears forming in her eyes.
Steve stood looking out the window, allowing Kayla to digest everything he had told her. They had come back to his hotel room for the privacy it offered. He would have loved to see Stephanie but knew that was asking too much given the circumstances. He had taken a risk and told her everything. It felt like an albatross had been removed from his body and soul. He was not sure Kayla was as relieved as he was.
He raked his fingers through his hair, something he had done repeatedly while they talked. He turned to face her, determined not to be any more of a coward then he already had been. She was staring at the empty glass in her hand, having emptied it of its contents while he was not looking. He had not brought her to his room with the intention of getting her drunk but sometime during his story the mini-bar his room offered had appealed to both of them.
She had chosen a small bottle of white zinfandel wine while he had gone straight to the hard stuff, whiskey with a little bit of water to lessen its potency. He needed to keep his head about him, his mind clear. Oddly, it was being near her again that tempted him to drink again. He had abstained from alcohol and any other vices that might take his mind off his job. The tension could be cut with a knife it was so thick.
"Why did you come back?"
"I read about your mom and I had to come."
"But what about all of the other times we've needed help? What about leaving me with an infant to take care of by myself?"
"I did it for you and for Stephanie. I've avoided reading anything about Salem. It's the only way I could do it."
She ran a fingertip along the rim of her glass apparently thinking over his words. "And you just expect to pick back up where we left off?"
"No, Sweetness. A man can hope that his wife would take him back no matter what, but I know it's too much to ask under these circumstances."
"What do you want then?"
"I'd like to see our daughter."
"And just leave again? I can't do that to her, Steve. I don't think she would recover from finding out you're alive only to lose you again."
"I don't have to leave again. I've done more than what I was recruited to do. I've worked like a dog for them. Besides, it's the DiMira's I want to get my hands on."
"And that's supposed to ease my mind? I won't let you do it, Steve. I won't let you come back into my life, enter Stephanie's with a grudge on your shoulder like when we first met."
"That was different."
"Was it?" Her eyes met his. She was refusing to back down.
He had come to Salem for revenge against Bo. He wanted DiMira in an entirely different way, revenge was not a factor. At least not a large one. People had tried for years to bring that family down. Steve just wanted the pain and suffering to stop, particularly for those in Salem. For those he loved.
"I was a different man then."
"Since then. Of course I have. You changed me."
"No, since you left. I see it in your eye."
"I don't know that I've changed. I'm the same man who left here, I don't love you any less. If anything I love you more."
"Don't say that."
"It's the truth."
"If you loved me so much you would not, could not, have walked away."
"I was willing to sacrifice my happiness, to know you might remarry and have more children to keep you safe. If that's not love, what is? I was given a job I could not turn down, Kayla. I've done a lot of good. Saved lives of girls not much older than Stephanie from unthinkable situations."
"And you didn't think I had a say in things? That maybe I'd have let you do your job."
"Not under the circumstances. If I took the job and died it wouldn't matter. I was already dead as far as the people I cared most about knew. I had assurances you would be safe. But if you knew I was still alive you would have been a weakness. Someone could have found out about you and used that information against me."
"Meanwhile, the rest of my family has been raked over the coals."
"That's not my fault."
She sighed heavily, placing her empty glass on the nightstand next to the bed. "I know it's not. It's late and this is a lot for me to accept."
"Can I see her? Even without her seeing me or knowing I'm here?"
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She was thinking about it. It was better than a straight no. "You can come over for dinner tomorrow night. If I call you tomorrow and cancel you have to honor that. She's a teenaged girl I can't guarantee I'll get the chance to talk to her."
"Does she do well in school?"
"Yes," Kayla said simply, though Steve could hear the pride in his wife's voice.
"Will there be someone else there?"
"Who else would be there?"
He shrugged slightly. "A husband?"
"I'm not married. I never could. I came close once but couldn't do it."
He stepped toward her, cupping her face with the palm of his hand. He caught a tear with the pad of his thumb as it slid down her cheek. "I'm sorry."
"Don't," she whispered, her lower lip trembled as if she was fighting the urge to cry harder. "I know you are. That's what makes this so hard. Don't you see?"
He never claimed to have a good knowledge of women beyond the bedroom. He did not understand what she was trying to say. He shook his head afraid he would say the wrong thing if he spoke.
"I know the man you became before you died. Left," she shook her head, freeing herself of his tender hold. He let his hand drop to his side, disappointed not to be able to touch her. "I know you didn't do anything to hurt me. Or Stephanie. That's the hardest part of this. I believe you thought you were doing the right thing. And I can understand the safety thing. My brothers are cops after all so I understand the risks. I'm not sure Stephanie will understand all of this, though. All she knows is that she grew up without a father. We lived in California until recently so Bo and Roman being cops never overlapped into her world or posed a threat to her."
"Why did you move back?"
"Is he okay?"
She shrugged. "Besides being heartbroken you mean? He's lost without Mom." She wiped the tears from her cheeks and took a deep breath. "Listen, I need to get home to Stephanie. You can come to dinner tomorrow night, but call first to make sure I've had the chance to tell her."
"Okay, I need your number, though."
She picked up the ballpoint pen and pad of paper next to the bedside phone and wrote her number down. He watched her amazed at the way she was taking this. Maybe she was not taking it so well and that was the reason she wanted to get away from him. To breakdown away from him. He had to let her have the space she needed. Tomorrow, though, he would start with the full court press to get her to accept him back into her life permanently.
"I'll see you tomorrow then." She gathered her coat and draped it over her arm, walking to the door. She was leaving and he had to let her do that as much as he hated it.
"Can I bring anything?"
She smiled then, regarding him. He let her look her fill. He was glad he had not let himself go over the years like so many other men in the Bureau had. "No, just yourself." There was a warning in her eyes he read loud and clear. If he did not show up she would see to it personally that his next funeral was real.
"See you then. Good night."
"Good night, Steve."
And just like that she was gone and his world seemed suddenly less bright than it had a moment ago. He sat on the bed, the indentation from where she sat still fresh and warm. He picked up the phone then and dialed a number he knew by heart.
"Director Gooding, please. This is Agent Hutchins, Badge number 5206835."
"Anthony, what can I do for you today? I thought you were on vacation, though I had to visit your office to verify you were really gone. Knock me over with a feather when I got that request on my desk."
"Yes, I'm really on vacation. That's why I'm calling."
"Okay, what's up?"
"Can you turn that vacation into my resignation?"
"Any way I can talk you out of it? We need you out there, Anthony. You're my top agent in your area. I've left you in so long because of that. If you're burnt out and just need time, we can arrange for that. Take all the time you need."
"No, I don't need time. I need my life back."
"This is kind of sudden, isn't it, Anthony? Why don't you take forty-eight and think it over. If you still feel this way in a few days, call me back."
Steve pinched the bridge of his nose, shutting his eyes. "I don't think I'll change my mind, but yeah I can call back."
"Really think about it, Anthony. It would be a shame to lose you. I'd feel better if you I knew this wasn't a rash decision."
"Thank you, sir."
"I hope to hear a different tune at the end of the week."
"Yes, sir," he said and hung up the phone. He turned to lie on the bed then, kicking off his leather loafers and letting them drop to the floor in an unorganized heap. He reclined, resting his head against the flimsy hotel pillow. "I'm not going back," he whispered as his eyes drifted closed.
Steve sat in his rental car just down the street from Kayla's house. On the passenger seat next to him were a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers, and a boxed gift for Stephanie. He had no idea what to get and not have it seem like a bribe under the circumstances. He doubted fifteen year old girls were easy to buy for under any circumstances so he took a bit of solace in that.
His car idled and he watched the car's digital clock display change from 5:59. She had told him any time after six o'clock would be fine, so he put the car in drive and continued the short distance to her home. It was a nice two-story home. Kayla obviously did well for herself. He imagined nurses in California got paid a healthy salary. The driveway and sidewalk leading to the house were cleared of any snow. He wondered if she did the shoveling or had someone else to do it for her.
She had mentioned not having a husband but that did not mean there had been no men in her life. She had said something about almost marrying again. He had quickly let that comment get dropped. He did not want to think of her having other lovers. Why did she still have to be so attractive to him?
He had secretly hoped that the real thing would not live up to his expectations. Years of daydreaming about her had built her up to incredibly unrealistic heights. He had hoped when he saw her again he would be disappointed somehow so that the dull ache that was forever in his heart would finally go away.
Seeing her again only set his body ablaze with wanting her. And unlike knowing his daydreams were just works of fiction created in his mind she was flesh and blood. He finally had the real thing and he had to make sure he kept his libido in check.
He rang the bell, noticing the snow covered hedges in front of the house. The snow must have fallen recently because white Christmas lights shone brightly from underneath the snow. He smiled despite promising himself he would not get emotional too quickly. It was nice to see his daughter had a home, though. It was something he had never had growing up. His mother did the best she could, but Christmas decorations were the furthest thing from her mind most days.
Kayla answered the door and Steve felt an instant sense of relief that he did not have to come face to face with his daughter yet. He was dying to see her, but he was not sure how either would have responded if she had been the one to answer the door.
"You found it all right."
"Yes, easily enough."
"Good. Come in." She stepped away from the door, allowing him in.
"These are for you." He held out the flowers and the wine. "Well, the flowers are for the table."
"Steve, you shouldn't have.
"I know, but I couldn't come empty handed."
"I suppose not."
He took in the living room. It was done in earthy tones and pastels, feminine but not overly frilly. It was a room he would be comfortable in. She had a fire going in the fireplace, a real one he took note. A throw blanket was tossed over the back of the sofa, a book laid open on a coffee table. It was a cozy setting and he felt like an intruder.
"This is nice."
"Thanks. Stephanie helped me."
He noted there was no TV in this room, only a stereo which was softly playing some jazzy sounding tune. There was a easy chair that looked comfortable and he could picture Kayla sitting there reading her book.
"Is she here?"
"Yes, she's upstairs getting ready. I'm sure she's on her fifth or sixth outfit by now."
"Is she okay?"
"I think so. I kept her home from school today. She was so distracted I didn't think she would be very productive there anyway. And she hasn't missed a day yet, so I'm not too worried about one day."
"You said she does well in school." He did not see a problem with keeping her out either. It made sense, though he was not sure he would have thought of it.
"Would you like to sit down?"
"Only if you'll be joining me."
"Well, I still have some things to do in the kitchen."
"I'll go with you then," he said. He was not sure he wanted to be sitting in the living room alone when Stephanie came downstairs. He felt most guilty about abandoning her.
"Okay," she said and led him to the kitchen.
He set the bottle of wine on the counter and she took the flowers from him once she had filled a vase with water. He wondered how often she received flowers if she kept a vase so handy. He grimaced at the thought, reminding himself to keep himself in check.
"What's for dinner?"
"Spaghetti. I had to work today and didn't get home until about an hour ago, so I didn't have time to prepare anything else."
"It's fine, Kayla, really. It's probably more than I deserve. It smells good, anyway. And to a bachelor like me that's all that matters."
He noticed her frown and realized he had said the wrong thing. His bachelorhood was self-inflicted. He had left a loving wife and a beautiful young daughter behind willingly. He had not felt as though he had any choice at the time, but he was not sure she would ever understand that completely.
"Is he here yet?"
Steve turned at the sound of the unfamiliar female voice and his heart stopped beating for a moment. She was beautiful. Perfect. She looked so much like her mother. And his mother without the harsh lines and pain he remembered seeing on his mother's face.
"Hi." It was the first thing to come out of his mouth. He found he was speechless now that he was face to face with her. Fifteen years worth of things he had wanted to say, stories he had wanted to share and all he could say was hi. "This is for you," he said, his mind finally starting to clear. He handed her the box. "If you don't want to open it right now, I understand."
He saw tears form in her eyes as his daughter looked to Kayla. She took the box. "Thanks."
"Steph, why don't you set the table while I finish with the salad."
"Okay, Mom." Steve thought he saw a look of relief pass on her face not that he could blame her. No one said a word as Stephanie took plates from a cupboard, tableware from a drawer and some napkins into what Steve presumed was the dining room.
He followed her without saying anything, watching her as she set the table.
"You'd better not hurt her."
"What?" He was not sure he had heard correctly. Teenagers were supposed to be the most selfish people in existence and here she was worrying about her mother. It made him realize how strong their bond must be and how difficult things must have been for them without him.
She looked directly at him for the first time since she had come into the kitchen to find him there. "I said you better not hurt her."
"I have no intentions of hurting her."
"Do you plan on staying?"
"I don't know. That all depends I guess."
"You know I remember being little and imagining that you hadn't died, that you were still alive and came back for us."
"I never thought it would take this long for you to come back. Why did you leave us?" The light glimmer of tears he saw in the kitchen a few moments ago were full blown ones now. "Did I do something wrong?"
"What?" He felt as if he had just been slapped. "What could you have done?"
"I don't know. I just. Mom said you were happy and now I find out you didn't really die. So that means you left right after I was born. Who leaves their baby behind?"
His breath caught and he felt the sting of tears in his eyes. "There's nothing I can say to make you understand."
"Stephanie that's enough. Let's eat dinner." Kayla's was always a voice of reason.
Stephanie wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "Okay, Mom," she said softly, her voice soft from crying. Steve remained where he was when Stephanie returned to the kitchen. He had not expected to walk into their lives and meet with instant acceptance. He had not realized it was going to be this difficult, though. He had not counted on a teenager's emotions and heaps of self-doubt.
He had not thought beyond the fact he believed he was doing the right thing. Now that he was here about to have dinner with Kayla and Stephanie for the first time ever as a family he doubted himself for the first time. It had been incredibly easy to fool himself into believing he had his family's best interests in mind. He had not anticipated seeing them again and realizing he had missed out on so much. He never saw Stephanie walk. He never got to take her to Kindergarten or hang one of her drawings on the refrigerator door. Had she had her first date? Did she have a boyfriend? Had he kissed her yet?
His mind was running away from him, taking him to places he was not ready for. It had been easy to live emotionally closed off for over a decade because without Kayla and Stephanie he had nothing to care about. Here they were now, though, and he was feeling things, thinking things for the first time in years. Maybe this had not been a good idea.
He eyed the table, set for three. Stephanie had lit a pair of candles that adorned the table. He remembered the tablecloth. It had been one of Kayla's favorites. He had brought it home from a trip overseas back when he had done ISA business. Had she put it on the table tonight with that in mind or did she use it regularly?
He turned from the table, spotting the living room that provided an escape to the front door. Clearly, judging by the things he had seen in the house they did fine without him. In fact, they probably did better. It was tempting to leave and never turn back. His boss had given him time to think about his resignation. He could take it back, return to D.C. and pretend everything was the same.
As Kayla and Stephanie entered from the kitchen he realized he could not do that. Just seeing them was not enough for him. He had promised Kayla he would not just leave Stephanie's life again. There was no way he was going to move into her life and heart without some effort, but he wanted to earn her affection. Her trust. He wanted that more than anything he had wanted in a long time. The only thing he had ever wanted more was Kayla. And Stephanie was an extension of Kayla so it stood to reason.
Kayla frowned and Steve wondered if she knew he had contemplated leaving up until the moment he saw them again. She knew him well enough even if they had been separated for so long.
"You can sit here, Steve. Stephanie, you sit in your usual spot," Kayla said as she and Stephanie set serving dishes on the table. The spaghetti and what he presumed was fresh baked garlic bread smelled delicious. He was not entirely a novice at cooking but nothing he ever made smelled so good waiting to be eaten.
He stood by the chair she had indicated was to be his, for this meal at least, and waited for them both to sit. Kayla led them in a prayer and Steve instinctively crossed himself though it had been years since he had prayed. And then they sat. Serving dishes of salad, spaghetti, sauce and a basket full of the bread he had smelled were passed around.
"I forgot the wine."
"I'll get it," Steve offered. "I just need to know where a corkscrew is."
"I'll show him, Mom. Can I have some?"
"I suppose a little taste won't hurt anything."
"Thanks," Stephanie said with a smile and entered the kitchen with Steve only a few steps behind her. She had volunteered to come with him. A good sign? Or a very bad one. He hoped it was a good one.
She handed him the corkscrew and leaned back against the counter, her hands holding the edge as if she was nervous. Good. He was not the only one. He said nothing as he worked the corkscrew. His eyes met hers briefly and saw that she was watching him intently.
"You like wine?" The silence was killing him. If she wanted to tell him to go to hell and get out of their house he wished she would just go ahead and say it.
"I've had champagne at weddings. Mom doesn't usually let me have any at home, but I figured tonight she might."
"It's not that big of a deal."
She shrugged and he quit talking. It was not his place to offer her advice on the evils of drinking too young. At least not yet.
"You never answered my question."
"What question was that?" She had asked a few, none of which had easy answers.
"Are you staying?"
"I'd like to." He glanced at her then and saw a look on her face that reminded him of looking in a mirror. He felt his throat tighten, his heart clench at seeing his daughter do something so familiar to him. "Very much," he added as the cork came out of the bottle with a loud POP.
"I think I'd like that, too," she said softly. With the pop of the cork and the resulting fizz from the wine settling he almost missed it. He realized she probably did that intentionally so refrained from getting too excited.
"Let's go pour this before the dinner your mom went through the trouble to make gets cold. I think she's mad at me enough, I don't want to make it worse."
"You're probably right." He saw it then and his heart melted unlike anything he had ever felt before. She smiled at him. It was a small one, but it was definitely a smile. He could not remember anything as beautiful as his little girl smile just for him. And for the first time since he had set foot back in Salem he thought things might just work out okay. It would not be easy and would not happen over night.
Steve woke in his hotel room. For the first time in long over a decade he felt alive. He did not dread facing his day. In fact, he looked forward to it. He, Kayla and Stephanie had moved to the living room after dinner was done and talked until it got to the point no one could keep their eyes open any longer. Stephanie had been the first to crash, though Steve had been able to tell she wanted to stay up longer.
It was about an hour after his daughter had gone to bed that Kayla indicated she needed to follow suit. She had offered Steve the use of her spare bedroom. Steve had declined with little hesitation. If he stayed under the same roof as her he would be tempted to go to her.
He had given them details of some of his undercover investigations, hoping they would see the good he had done even if it had cost him his family. He wasn't sure they would ever fully understand why he had made the decision he had. He hoped by seeing other families had been saved the torment and pain the Brady's had they might forgive him.
Kayla talking to him until well into the middle of the night was more than he had hoped for. Stephanie staying involved in the conversation despite having school the following day made him want to shout in triumph from the pier. It wasn't much but it was more than he deserved. Now all he had to do was fax and then mail his official letter of resignation, find a place to live in Salem and then he could start proving to his family that he was here to stay.
He wasn't sure he'd ever forget Kayla's words when she walked him to the door at the end of the night. "Next time I'll pull out some baby pictures of Stephanie." He had felt elated at the thought of being able to see photographs of his daughter in various stages of the growing up process. It was an offered glimpse into their past without him and a step toward a future including him in their lives. At least he hoped that was what it was.
He stepped into the shower still able to see clearly the look in Kayla's eyes as she was closing the door. There was a smorgasbord of emotions visible. Disbelief, hope, fear, anger, and love. They were all very powerful, everything Kayla felt was that way. It was all or nothing with her. He had his work cut out for him to chip away at the fear and anger. He just hoped he could replace those emotions with more love and hope. The disbelief would disappear as he continued to prove he was not going anywhere.
His first stop was Salem University's library where he utilized their computer lab to type and print his letter. The student union offered faxing and overnight shipping supplies. Within an hour after leaving his hotel room, Steve Johnson was officially back and unemployed. He had no idea what would happen to Anthony Hutchins but he hoped never to hear the name again. He would have to go to the Chicago field office at some point to turn in his badge and ID. He had left his gun and all other equipment in D.C.
He hoped Stephanie and Kayla understood he had entrusted them with confidential information. As far as anyone else knew when they asked where Steve had been, he had been deep undercover. It was all anyone needed to know anyway.
He drove his rental car in the direction of the Salem University Hospital. His only other stop for the day was at the Salem Police Department, hoping his brother-in-law would see fit to give Steve a job. Hell, he'd be a traffic cop for the time being if that's all he could get.
He realized midway to the hospital that maybe it was better not to show up unannounced. The night before had gone surprisingly well, perhaps he should give her a day or two to process things. With that thought he turned his car around and headed to the police station instead. He would much rather see Kayla than her brother, but he needed to give her time. He did not think pushing her or forcing his way back into her life was the answer.
He walked into the precinct for the second time since arriving back in Salem.
"May I help you?"
"I'm looking for Bo Brady."
"He's back in his office," the officer said, indicating the commander's office toward the rear of the room.
Steve rapped his knuckles on the door as he pushed it open, not giving Bo the chance to answer the door himself.
"Well, well. Look who's sitting in the hot seat now."
"What do you want, Steve?"
Steve strode to Bo's desk where the other man was seated, apparently deeply involved in something on his computer.
"No how are you? No long time no see buddy?"
"You're not my buddy. That was a long time ago, Steve. And buddies don't abandon the other buddy's sister, leaving her to raise a kid alone and to fend for herself."
"You're right," Steve said simply. There was no use arguing with Bo. He slapped a piece of paper on Bo's desk. "Call Director Harold Gooding. Ask him for a reference on Agent Hutchins, Badge number 5206835. He's expecting your call, he'll tell you what it was I abandoned your sister for."
Bo finally drew his attention away from his computer screen, sparing a glance at the piece of paper. "That still doesn't tell me what you want."
"I can help you."
Bo laughed then, glaring at Steve. "I don't need your help."
"Talk to Harold Gooding and when you reconsider needing my help call me. I've tendered my resignation, Bo. I'm back in Salem for good, unless your sister tells me to leave."
"It would be the smart thing for her to do."
"I'm lucky you're not her then. How's Hope?"
"She's fine, Steve. I don't want you coming in here chatting me up like nothing's happened."
"I'm looking for a job. I'm a good investigator, I'd make a good cop. You know most of my background. For the gaps, you'll have to call that number. I'm out of here, I'll be hearing from you."
Bo stood and slammed his hands on his desk. "That's just like you. Cocky, too self-assured. It caused you to be careless."
"I'm not being cocky, Bo," Steve said, moving so they were practically nose to nose with only Bo's desk separating them.
"Bo, what's going on?" Bo and Steve both turned at the sound of Hope's voice at the same time. "Oh my God, it really is you."
"Bo told me, but I didn't really believe him. I mean," she walked toward him and touched his face. "It is you, isn't it?"
"In the flesh, patch and all," Steve said with a smirk. "I was just talking to your husband about the possibility of my signing up to be a part of the Salem PD team."
"I think that's a great idea. It'd be like old times."
"Hope, there are no old times."
"Not too many good ones anyway," Steve added dryly, his hand instinctively going to the patch covering his eye. He was pretty sure Hope knew how he lost his eye.
"I still think it would be a great idea. I mean, you are staying in Salem, right? That's why you're here?"
"No, Hope, he's not staying. Kayla was doing just fine without him."
"That's why she never remarried, Bo. Have you seen Stephanie yet?"
"Last night," Steve said unable to hide the full blown smile the mention of his daughter caused. "She's beautiful. Perfect. Smart. She looks like her mother."
"She looks like both of you. I've said that for a while now."
"You know," Bo said, "now that you say that. Every once in a while she'll do something that reminds me of you. Things you did when you were younger, you know, before."
"Yeah, I know. Before."
"Oh, come on, Bo, what could it hurt. With Roman gone it's not like we couldn't use another capable, qualified body."
"I don't know what he's capable of."
Hope rolled her eyes and folded her arms over her chest. "You know this man better than you know anybody besides maybe me and your boys."
"That was a long time ago, Hope. He's been gone for almost fifteen years. A lot can happen to a man in that length of time. For all I know he was running drugs."
"I've given you a way to check me out. I'm out of here," he said for the second time. "It was nice seeing you again Hope. You're looking great as always. Later," he said, leaving the couple to argue. Steve did not need to be privy to a marital squabble. He had his own marriage to worry about salvaging. He had no idea if it was salvageable. He was not sure he wanted to salvage the past anyway. He would almost prefer to start over. He was not sure how they could do it but he was going to do his damnedest to see that they gave it a try.
With the police station out of his way, Steve had two choices available to him. He could return to his hotel room or go to the hospital. The worst thing that could happen is that she could tell him to leave he reasoned. With that in mind he drove to the hospital.
He took the elevator to the sixth floor, which was the floor he found her on the other day. He figured it was as good a place to start as any. He glanced at his watch as he rode up in the elevator and realized he could still treat her to lunch if she was of the mind.
He spotted Lexie Carver down the hall when he stepped out of the elevator and walked in her direction.
"Hi, Lexie. I'm looking for Kayla."
She smiled, holding a clipboard against her chest. "I figured you might be. She's down the hall in the distribution room."
"She'll explain. Down the hall, turn right at the first hallway and then it's the last door on the right. She might have the door closed, but I imagine she'll let you in if you knock." She shrugged then. "Or she won't and then you'll know."
"Yeah, I get the feeling I've got quite the battle."
She patted him on the arm. "Actually, I don't think it'll be as tough as you might think. She loves you, she's never stopped. We all knew that. It didn't take a genius to know why she moved to California. And when she came back to Salem. Well, she's looked haunted the entire time she's been here."
"I hope you're right."
"I assume there's a good explanation for what happened."
"As good a one as there could be given the circumstances. How's Abe, by the way. I was surprised I didn't see him at the police station when I stopped by there earlier."
"He's fine. He's having some vision problems, so he's at home. Medical leave."
"I'm sorry to hear that. He's a good cop."
"Yes, he is."
"Of course, I don't need to tell you that, I'm sure. He's your husband. I'll let you get back to work. Thanks for letting me know where she is."
"You're welcome, Steve. And if there's anything I can do just let me know. I'm here for you and Kayla both. Stephanie, too, of course. Counseling or just a friend to talk to."
Steve found the distribution room. He knocked and saw Kayla look through the window in the door and saw the look of surprise register on her face. She opened the door. "Steve, hi."
"Hi, Sweetness. Busy?"
"I, well, yeah. I'm helping Lexie with this drug theft case."
"Right, that's what the three of you were talking about when I interrupted the other day."
"Right. So, I'm taking inventory. It's tedious really, but someone has to do it so we know just how much has gone missing."
"Do you have time for a break? Lunch?"
She glanced at the room behind her and at him. "I don't know."
"Lexie'd understand you need to eat lunch."
"I suppose you're right," she said and offered him a smile that would melt any man's hardened heart. "I've been working since before eight."
"You didn't tell me you had an early day today."
"It didn't seem important at the time. Stephanie was enjoying having you there and I wasn't going to put an end to it before she was ready."
She didn't say she'd been enjoying herself and Steve thought for sure she had been. Was he misreading things? Was he feeling hopeful when he had no reason to? No, that couldn't be possible. She had remained awake for close to an hour after Stephanie had gone to bed.
The fire had been close to dying and Steve had offered to put it out, but Kayla had suggested they just let it go out. So, they had talked until even the embers had died out. The conversation after Stephanie had gone to bed had turned more intimate. He had been surprised at how easily they had fallen back into talking comfortably. She was the only person he had ever allowed himself to be at ease with. Years of looking over his shoulder to be sure those he was investigating had not caught onto his ruse had made it especially tough to trust anyone.
"I enjoyed being there, I'm glad Stephanie did, too."
"Well, let me lock everything up and get my purse from the nurse's station."
"You don't need your purse, Sweetness, I'm buying."
Within a few minutes they were in the elevator on their way to the cafeteria. The silence was uncomfortable and Steve was not sure what to say. Last night words had flowed so naturally. He wasn't sure what the difference was but he sensed she felt it, too.
"I resigned today."
"I knew once I saw you that I couldn't leave again, Sweetness. Maybe you won't have me and maybe it'll take a while for us to decide what to do. But I'm planting my feet firmly in the ground here in Salem. I have to go up to the Chicago field office to turn in my badge, but there's no rush. I'm sure my supervisor is hoping I'll come to my senses and retract."
He held up his hand. "I'm not pressuring you. I just want you to know I'm here to stay. Unless you tell me to leave, then I'd have no choice but to leave."
"And if another job comes along?"
"They'll have to find another guy. I served my time, did my thing. No more. I went to see Bo about a job."
"I'm sure that went over well."
"Yeah, actually it went better than I expected. He didn't throw me out, but I suspect that was only due to Hope showing up and smoothing things over a bit. Otherwise, I might see if the hospital needs a PI to investigate liability claims and things like that." The elevator stopped, the doors opened and they stepped out with Kayla leading the way to the cafeteria.
"I'm sure you'll find something."
"I always do."
Steve sat in the bleachers trying to remember if he had been in a high school gymnasium since he had been in school. Stephanie was a cheerleader for Salem's boys' basketball team and Steve had jumped at the invitation extended to him by Stephanie to watch a game.
He leaned in close in order to be heard over the ref's whistle and the squeak of basketball shoes on the court as the guys playing made sudden stops and starts. "She looks great," Steve said into Kayla's ear.
"Yeah, she does," Kayla agreed. Steve could see the pride on Kayla's face.
"Does she take after you?"
"You trying to say you weren't cheerleader material?"
"Well, yes, but."
"I knew it the first time I laid eyes on you. Dated the captain of the football team?"
"We're not here to talk about me."
"I can't think of anything I'd rather talk about, Sweetness."
"Well, there is that, but she's a part of you. So it's not that much different."
She blushed and Steve chuckled and settled in to watch the rest of the game. Salem won, though he didn't paid much attention to the game itself. His eyes were riveted to Stephanie. She wasn't the best on the squad, but he thought she did just fine.
He'd been back in Salem for over a month now. With a glowing reference and ringing endorsements from his Bureau supervisor and co-workers Bo had no choice but to hire him. Steve knew it irked Bo to no end, which was part of the reason Steve had pushed so hard. There were other things he could have done in Salem, but he just couldn't let sleeping dogs lie where Bo was concerned.
Now that he was spending more time with Kayla and Stephanie was beginning to get used to the idea of including him in things Steve imagined he'd have to cool his harassment of Bo Brady down. He was renting an apartment now. It was a dive he'd found willing to do a month to month lease. He and Kayla had gone on dates and things seemed to be going well between them. It was a slow process but his biggest concern now was Stephanie. She seemed slow to trust in him, slow to believe he wasn't going to disappear again.
"Hi guys," Stephanie said once they'd joined her on the gym floor. "Did you like the game?"
"You did great."
"Thanks. Do you want to meet some of my friends?"
"Okay," she said and led them to a group of kids Stephanie's age. Some wore cheerleader outfits while some were in street clothes. More than one set of eyes turned to Steve. He wondered if they were staring at his patch or if they were just curious who he was.
"This is Shanna, Willow, Brianna, Ashley, Trista and Paige. Guys, this is my dad."
Steve offered them all a smile, his good eye focused on Stephanie. He had not heard her refer to him as her dad before now. She had been careful to avoid calling him anything at all. Kayla must have sensed his surprise because she offered him a smile.
"Were you really an undercover agent?"
"I was," Steve said with a chuckle.
"Like James Bond?"
"No. It's nothing that glamorous."
"Is that how you got the patch?"
"Trista," one of the girls reprimanded.
"No, it's okay. I've had it for years. I wish I could say it was from something as legitimate as pursuing a criminal. It was just youthful stupidity."
"That is so cool."
"Mom, we were going to go to the Pub with some of the players."
"And then can I spend the night at Paige's?"
"Is it okay with your mom?"
"Yeah," Paige replied. "She's right over there if you want to ask her."
Kayla waved and a brunette responded in kind. The woman's hair was streaked with gray, conflicting with a more youthful complexion making her age difficult to assess. He imagined most of the parents were around their age, they had not been too young or too old when Stephanie was born.
"I'll talk to her on our way out. It's fine with me, though."
"Do you need money?" Steve reached for his wallet, prepared to offer her something.
"No, I'm fine."
"How many of you are going?"
"I'm not sure. Ten, I guess."
He handed her two twenty dollar bills. "This should buy you and your friends Cokes."
Stephanie's "Thanks, Dad" was followed by a chorus of "Thanks, Mr. Johnson."
"No problem. Have a good time."
"That was nice of you," Kayla said as they walked toward Paige's mother.
"It seemed the fatherly thing to do."
"You don't approve?"
"I didn't say that."
"I thought it was nice of you that's all."
"She called me Dad."
"I noticed that. Is that why you did it?"
"No, I would have given her the money anyway."
"Hi, Cindy," Kayla said as they approached Paige's mom. "I just wanted to make sure it's okay with you Stephanie spends the night at your house."
"Sure. There's going to be a bunch of them it sounds like."
"Thanks for checking, though. Some parents just take their daughter's word for it."
"Yeah," Kayla said softly. The two women seemed to be in agreement about something, though Steve wasn't quite sure what it was. "Well, we're going to go get a pizza I think."
It was the first Steve had heard of this plan. The invitation had only been for the game as far as he knew. He'd go anywhere with Kayla so he didn't mind.
"Okay. Thanks for checking."
"Sure. If you need anything Stephanie has my cell phone number."
"Have a good night."
"You, too, Cindy."
"A house full of fifteen year old girls and you're telling her to have a good night?"
"Well, it's possible she could. With earplugs and a pint of her favorite ice cream."
"I think I'd need more than ice cream to get me through that."
Kayla shook her head. "You're not used to it. We are conditioned."
"I suppose." He wasn't sure he bought it but he wasn't in a position to argue. "So, pizza?"
"Yeah, I thought it would be nice. I was going to suggest the Pub but I don't want Stephanie to think we're spying on her."
"We wouldn't want that. She's going to be there with boys, isn't she?"
"Yes, there will be boys there. That's why we're going somewhere else."
"I'm not sure I see the logic in avoiding the place she'll be around boys."
"Because I've raised her right. I have to trust her or she'll rebel."
"Like her uncle and her father you mean?"
"Something like that."
"But we turned out all right."
"Sure, after finding women to help make you that way."
"Don't tell me that you both wouldn't have continued on your path of drunken destruction if your wives hadn't entered your lives."
"You're probably right." He hated admitting she was right on this point. Kayla had changed everything about him and in record time, too. He could barely remember the depression, the anger he thrived on before meeting her. It no longer existed. Not even being separated from her for over a decade could bring it back. The memories of her loving him were too strong to be penetrated by hate.
"Wow, it's pretty empty." After pizza and a pitcher of beer Kayla followed him to his apartment. She hadn't seen it yet. They always seemed to end up at her house. Steve had little to offer her anyway.
"Yeah," Steve said feeling a little embarrassed now that he looked at his apartment through her eyes. His apartment was typical for a drifter and he'd done little to spruce it up. Photographs of Stephanie and their wedding day were the only personal touches he had added to the second hand furniture he had come by. Had he planned on staying here for very long he would have bought better stuff. Of course, if he'd planned on staying for a while he would have rented a better apartment.
He had lived sparsely during his career with the Bureau. So he had managed to save up a nice nest egg. Gone were the days Steve Johnson didn't know where or what his next meal would be. He wasn't going to be competing with his birth father or anything but he was going to be fine.
"You really did come here with nothing but some clothes didn't you?"
"I guess I didn't really believe it until now. Did you send for any of your things?"
"There was nothing I wanted or needed. I imagine someone at the Bureau will have packed everything up and I could get it if I wanted to."
She walked to his fridge and he grimaced when she opened it. She would find nothing in it but half a gallon of orange juice and a loaf of bread. Maybe there was some milk left, but he doubted it. And a six pack of beer.
"I'm sorry I don't have much of anything to offer you."
"Or anywhere to sit."
She brushed past him, her shoulder making light contact with his arm and walked to his bed. "This is good enough for me." His eyes fell closed in an attempt to picture the last time she had been seated on his bed. Unfortunately, he could not bring up the image as easily as he should have. His mind was too focused on the fact she was on his bed now.
"Would you like a beer?"
"Are you going to have one?"
"If you want one." They had split a pitcher with their pizza. He really didn't need to drink anymore but he felt as though he should offer her something.
"Okay." His eye darted around the room unsure what he should do. She was in the middle of his bed. No matter where he might sit they'd be close. Had she done that intentionally? Was he reading too much into things? He had expected her to take a look at his apartment and suggest either they go out again or back to her house.
She patted the bed next to where she sat. "Aren't you going to sit down?"
"You hadn't planned on it?"
"I don't know."
She laughed then. He saw light and a sparkle in her eyes he never got tired of seeing. "Are you scared of me?"
"Are you sure?"
"No," he admitted.
He removed his coat and threw it over hers on his dresser. "You're so beautiful, Sweetness. I look at Stephanie and I picture her growing into the woman you are."
"I hope not."
"Why would you say that?"
She shook her head. The moisture at the corners of her eyes told him she was holding back tears. "Because I couldn't move on."
"And you don't think that's a good example?"
"I don't know."
"Don't you want to teach her that love is powerful and not something you just move on from like it's nothing?"
He cupped her cheek, stroking her soft cheek. "You've done that. And I'm not going anywhere this time. After hearing her call me Dad I don't think I could leave even if I had doubts until now."
"It made you that happy?"
"Only one thing could make me happier," he whispered closing the distance between them.
"For you to call me husband again," he whispered before kissing her.
Was it the bed or his words? Who knew? But the emotion she poured into that kiss overwhelmed him. He felt all the love and the hurt in her. He fed off it, nibbling on her lower lip hoping to pry those feelings out of her. He was not sure how they stayed like that, kissing for the first time without hesitation. The next thing he knew they were laying on his bed. He was on top of her and her hands were making quick work of the buttons on his shirt.
"Are you sure, Sweetness?"
"Yes." It was more a purr than a whisper. He liked the sound whatever it was and wanted to hear more like it. His shirt off he leaned in and nuzzled her neck. His body still fit as if molded to fit with hers. He felt the swell of her breasts against his bare chest and sighed heavily. The memories were there in the back of his mind, a place he had kept securely locked until today. Like a dam had broken he was overwhelmed with the assault on his senses.
It all came back to him in vivid detail. He nipped at the tender skin by her ear and knew how she would taste. She wore the same perfume which helped make it seem as if he was traveling back in time. He would not fool himself into believing that, though. He had a lot of years and sleepless nights to make up for.
"I want to feel you." His voice was hoarse with pent up desire. She traced the outline of his tattoo once he had drawn away. His eye fell closed and he inhaled sharply at the contact. He gathered her hand into his and brought it to his lips. He kissed her knuckles and the tip of each finger, circling them with his tongue before releasing her hand. She helped him remove the sweater she wore. She dropped it to the floor beside the bed. He was too captivated by the sight of her to think about what to do next.
"Are you sure?" Her lips and the glimmer in her eyes let him knew she was teasing. He couldn't recall being surer about much of anything in his life.
"And if I said no?"
She kissed him, a light brush of her lips against his. A gentle tease but her tongue darting across his lower lip bore the promise of more to come. "I think I'd have to convince you."
"You would huh?" He unfastened her bra and tossed it to the floor with the rest their clothes expecting more to follow shortly. "I think I'd like to see that, Sweetness."
She reached between them, cupping his erection still restrained by his jeans and squeezed. "It doesn't feel like you need much convincing."
"Never did when it came to you." He felt her breath, warm against him as he nuzzled her cheek, ear and neck. He wanted her. Over a decade he had dreamed of this moment and he knew now that nothing in his dreams could ever have come close to the real thing. They weren't even a decent substitute. "Never going to be without you again."
She worked the zipper on his jeans. "Say that again."
"What you just said."
"That I'm never going to be without you again?"
She reached inside his jeans, slid her hand under his underwear and for the first time in years he felt her hand stroke his erection. "Yeah, that," she whispered. She arched against him as he pushed his body against hers.
With that, Steve knew they would be all right. It would be a difficult road and he would have to work doubly hard to retain the trust she'd given him a second time. He would do it, though. He would not disappoint his wife or his daughter a second time. He didn't have it in him to do it again.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com